UPDATED: Management Failures May Have Played Role in Spy Sat Director's Resignation
In the wake of Tuesday's decision by President Barack Obama to approve a huge new classified spy satellite system, the director of the organization that would have overseen and then run the new satellites has resigned.
The director of the secretive National Reconnaissance Office, Scott Large, issued an email message to staff on Wednesday announcing his resignation, which is effective April 18.
"Yesterday, the President approved a plan for the NRO to develop our next generation EO (electro-optical) systems. This gives the NRO an opportunity to continue our long tradition of excellence and deliver unparalleled capabilities to the nation as we do today .... Today, in consultation with the DNI, we have concluded that a change in leadership here at the NRO is appropriate," Large wrote.
Large has been tarred with the brush of the disastrous program known as the Future Imagery Architecture by some observers and that appears to have played a role in the decision that he leave. Boeing ran the program, which several experts have said was so complex as to be humanly impossible to build and operate. Senior officials at the Director of National Intelligence and National Reconnaissance Office virtually cringe when FIA is mentioned.
A former intelligence official familiar with the NRO ascribed Large's resignation to management failures that doomed his tenure, irrespective of the FIA fiasco. "I think the real difficulties for Scott were his utter inability to manage and lead the NRO. Some time ago he kicked off a major reorganization, which quickly became a chaotic disorganization from which the NRO has been trying to recover for many, many months," this source said in an email. "He had also lost control of planning and programing, direction of which moved steadily into ODNI hands. Finally, he was unsuccessful in getting the IC space world to play nicely with the DoD folks, despite his cordial relations with [the head of Air Force Space Command, Air Force Gen. Robert] Kehler.
However, a former senior Pentagon official defended Large's performance, noting that "it takes a village" to build and screw up a highly complex spy satellite program.
"It seems like Scott Large is a casualty of all the recent bickering over the way forward. Scott's a good man, and a talented professional. He received an inordinate amount of the blame for FIA, and was given a short leash by [former NRO Director] Don Kerr. We will never really know how Scott would have run the NRO, nor how he would have completed its much-needed transformation. He wasn't given a fair shot," the former official said. A former intelligence official agreed with this, positing that Blair and Gates simply want new leadership under a new administration.
Large, the former Pentagon official noted, was not running the NRO when most of the major decisions about the program -- aside from killing it before it wasted even more than the $10 billion estimated to have been blown on FIA -- and bore no more responsibility for its failures than any other senior NRO official.
But Blair and Gates must have concluded that they just could not afford to leave someone associated with FIA, as well as with the failure of the failed satellite US 193, which was shot down by the US Navy last year lest it tumble down in the atmosphere. Senior OSD and intelligence officials have been highly critical of the NRO in the last 18 months, pointing to a long string of problems at what was once one of America's great national assets.
Several names have been floated for the new NRO director since the November elections but my intel on this is not fresh. I'll update as soon as possible